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The recent Denver Digital Summit drew marketers, writers, and designers from around the country. Session topics ranged from how to refine your SEO strategy to how convince your boss to raise your marketing budget.

In one session, Dan Gilgoff, executive editor at National Geographic, described how the dynamic educational institution, global media company, and national icon uses the power of analytics to deliver more effective content to its readers. National Geographic’s reach is vast and its influence is global – it’s the number-one media brand on social media with 345 million followers across all platforms. While those stats are impressive, they indicate a diverse audience that follows National Geographic for a variety of reasons. It can’t be easy to keep all of them happy.

According to Gilgoff, National Geographic uses analytics much like any other media (or marketing) company: to learn about what stories readers want, and perhaps more importantly, what they don’t want. But, what do they do differently and how does it apply to marketing content? Let’s take a look.

Readers know what they want

National Geographic’s analytics indicate readers know what they want. Readers come to National Geographic for breathtaking photography and unique content about science, travel, archeology, and adventure. The publication’s audience typically doesn’t engage with stories about geopolitics or health and wellness.

Why is that? Over 125-plus years, National Geographic has developed a core identity. Readers go to The New York Times and CNN for geopolitics and other news, but those same readers expect best-in-class coverage of natural history, science, and adventure in the pages of National Geographic and online.

So, rather than continuing to try for a breakthrough in areas like geopolitics and healthcare, National Geographic refined its content strategy to focus on its core competencies. It doesn’t mean National Geographic’s stories about healthcare aren’t strong, “they’re just not our stories to tell,” Gilgoff said.

The lesson here is to focus on the content your audience craves, rather than trying to breakthrough into other topics or sectors that don’t interest your readers or your prospects. Whether you’re a news organization or a technical B2B company, the content you produce should speak to your audience. Ignoring the stats in favor of persisting with irrelevant content will ultimately waste your organization time and money.

Don’t ignore underperforming content

Not every piece of content is a hit. That’s true even when you do publish content consistent with what your audience is looking for. It’s easy to ignore a dud, writing off the failure as a one-time mistake and leaving it at that. By doing so, you miss out on an excellent opportunity for growth and improvement.

National Geographic uses an “underperforming dashboard” that tracks analytics of content its audience hasn’t engaged with as much as expected. With that dashboard, editors and writers create an active system of dialogue about poor performing content. Could the headline be improved? Did we promote the content on social? Was the story compelling? These are all relevant questions when content doesn’t meet expectations.

You don’t necessarily need a dashboard to track your underperformers, but don’t hide from poorly performing content, either. Look closely and you can gain insight into how to improve what you’re producing. And sometimes, when nothing’s working, it helps to call in the experts. Not everyone has the time to produce content, track the analytics, and refine content strategy.